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Yes—you can receive federal funds to support arts education programs

By Dustin K. Loehr, Director of Arts Education & Title IV-A, Arizona Department of Education

How many times have you picked up the paper, scrolled through social media, or attended a meeting where you experienced the sentiment, “There is no funding for the arts in schools”? I cringe when fellow arts advocates and leaders add fuel to this trope with statements that seem to verify this myth. Arts education exists in a broader education landscape and what is challenging for the arts usually connects to similar educational obstacles. We must remember that the education ecosystem is comprised of leaders who may lack sensitivity and awareness of what is necessary and reasonable to provide all students with artistic literacy. If arts educators are to successfully navigate this ecosystem, we must increase our literacies relating to education policy, federal education law, and the multiple funding streams that do exist to support our programming.

The fact is, arts education can be supported by multiple sources of federal funding. We just need to better navigate this system.

Many educators and parents are aware of federal funding that is intended to support our nation’s students. A common area of discussion is Title I funding which is intended to support low-income at-risk students. I often leverage this general knowledge of Title I as an introduction to other title areas that exist in the Every Student Succeds Act, otherwise known as ESSA. ESSA was signed into law December 2015 as a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This federal education law was a game changer in that, at it’s core, the law places emphasis on students receiving equitable access to a well-rounded education. It’s this distinction that set the stage for an increased emphasis on the arts: music and the arts are now federally defined as part of a well-rounded education.

Through this classification, arts education can now be supported through ESSA funding that includes Title I, but also many more title areas.Title IV-A, or the Student Support & Academic Enrichment Grant, is a new funding source under ESSA designed to provide access to a well-rounded education for ALL students – an education that includes access to the arts.

How does Title IV-A work?

Title IV-A is a grant made eligible to qualifying districts and public charter schools. As an entitlement grant, the amount of funding awarded is based on:

  1. The amount of funding appropriated through the federal budgeting process;

  2. The number of eligible districts or charters within each state;

  3. Poverty data for each qualifying district and charter.

Once formulas are applied, State Education Agencies or SEAs work to distribute Title IV-A funding to qualifying sub-grantees. SEAs may elect to reserve up to 5% of the state’s Title IV-A allocation to support costs relating to grant monitoring and administration, as well as state-level implementation efforts, technical assistance, and support.

What can be funded?

Title IV-A can support three broad funding priorities: 1) access to well-rounded education opportunities, 2) creating safe & healthy learning environments, 3) fostering digital literacy for students and staff. The arts can be supported in all these content priorities.

There are three important Title IV-A regulations to be mindful of:

  1. Activities must be necessary, reasonable, and allowable. The SEA must ensure that budget requests are necessary for program implementation, the costs are reasonable for a frugal person, and the requests can be connected to a Title IV-A priority area.

  2. All costs must supplement and not supplant the activities occurring at the district or charter school. If the activity would have been funded by other state or local funds, or if the activity is required by law, or if the activity would still occur in the absence of Title IV-A, then the activity would be considered supplanting and would not be allowable

  3. All activities must have a stated objective, a desired outcome, and a method to evaluate the effectiveness of the Title IV-A program.

If these General Cost Allowances are met, then the following arts examples could be supported by Title IV-A*:

  • Student or teacher supplies: art supplies, sheet music, theatrical props or costumes, dance shoes, instructional software.

  • Teacher or staff salaries or stipends: creating new teacher or staff positions to support arts education, or funding stipends to pay for beyond contract services (i.e. after school musical, summer music camp, etc.).

  • Teacher or staff professional development: Conference attendance, Conference Travel, teacher certification programs, membership fees to professional service organizations.

  • Substitute teacher fees to cover teacher PD.

  • Contract service fees for teaching artists and arts therapists to provide direct student instruction or support teachers and staff professional development.

  • Specialized equipment or capital: new musical instruments, choir risers, light boards, ballet barres, rigging systems, 3D Printers, kilns (please note, construction is not an allowable expense).

  • Instrument repair.

  • Student Travel: Competition experiences, student enrichment field trips.

*Please note: this is not an exhaustive list. Allowability is determined on a case-by-case basis.

How Title IV-A has supported arts education in Arizona

Arizona has created robust supports for arts education through Title IV-A funding both at the local and state level. According to fiscal year 2021 budget data, Arizona districts and charters chose to fund arts education over any other subject in the well-rounded education category! We also saw local leaders leveraging the arts to address challenges relating to school climate and culture and improving student mental health and wellness.

At the state level, Arizona has leveraged our state set-aside to create two full-time positions dedicated to supporting arts education. We have created a professional student gallery system to display student art, funded our Arts Education Data Project, the Arizona Seal of Arts Proficiency, and numerous trainings for arts education standards and assessment technical assistance including an updated website and clearer definitions of the connections between arts and SEL.

Accessing federal funds for your arts programs

If you are interested in accessing federal funds, including Title IV-A, there are some fundamental things you need to know to get started. The first and most important understanding is that, if you are an educator, you can’t directly apply for these funds yourself—you need to do this through your school or district leadership. You should start by improving your general literacy about federal funding. Here are some other tips to get your started:

  1. Find out who to connect with at the district or school site to learn about the available funding; that’s most likely your principal or federal grants manager.

  2. Determine how much funding your district or charter has; allocations amounts should be made available to you through your district/charter or through the state.

  3. Research your district/charter needs assessment policy; A needs assessment is required to access federal funds.

  4. Identify the overarching concerns or objectives of your district/charter and analyze how the arts can be leveraged to support these needs.

  5. Create a proposal based on your needs assessment and reach out to your established federal funding contact.

Gaining access to federal funding may not be the simple fix, but through research, intention, and a good deal of patience and persistence ESSA funds can re-invigorate the artistic support for your school community. Student access to a well-rounded education is a civil right! Increasing your policy and financial literacy will help ensure your students have every opportunity to create and express themselves.

Learn the Rules like a Pro, break them like an Artist. Bravely seek out the full potential of federal resources. Your students and teachers depend on it.


Dustin Loehr, a third generation Arizona native, has been the Director of Arts Education & Title IV-A for the Arizona Department of Education since May 2018. He previously served as the department’s Arts Education Specialist. Dustin also serves as the Well-Rounded Education Chair for the National Title IV-A Coalition Board of Directors and was previously the Vice President for the national State Education Agency Directors of Arts Education. He can be contacted at Dustin.Loehr@azed.gov.

Title IV-A resource list


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